Economist Nicholas Stern laid out his new vision for and a safer and more prosperous planet today in London.
Speaking at the launch of his new book ‘A Blueprint for a Safer Planet: How to manage climate change and create a new era of progress and prosperity’, Lord Stern urged world leaders to see the opportunity for a green recovery from the economic downturn. His hope is that the Group of 20 developed and developing economies meeting in London this Thursday will emphasize the need for a transition to bouyant green economy. “It’s the only option. Low economic growth in a world that has poverty and that is aspirational is unacceptable”, said Stern today at the London School of Economics.
A former World Bank economist, Stern is best known for his landmark report on the Economics of Climate Change, which was published at the behest of the UK government in 2006. The 700-page dossier reframed climate change from being an environmental issue to one of concern to industry and investors alike.
Since then, “emissions have grown faster than we had assumed and the buffering capacity of the planet has lessened", said Stern. "But the pace of technological change has been faster than expected and the level of political commitment is now stronger than it was 2-3 years ago”, he added optimistically.
Still, in his new book Stern has scaled down his recommendation for where atmospheric greenhouse gas levels ought to be stabilized. Whereas his 2006 report suggested an upper limit on atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations of 550 ppm CO2-equivalent, Stern now says we should hold levels below 500ppm CO2-equivalent [or 450 ppm of CO2 alone]. “We will be at 450ppm CO2* within 6 or 7 years anyhow, but it’s possible to hold levels below 500ppm and to then come down from there”, he said.
Asked whether he was advocating the use of geoengineering to reduce atmospheric concentrations from 500ppm, Stern said it will be part of the solution, but suggested that technologies such as biomass or carbon capture and storage could perhaps be used to sequester the gas rather than “throwing dust or mirrors into the sky”. He also critized efforts to allow new coal fired power stations, such as the one at Kingsnorth, Kent, to proceed without such schemes in place to capture the emissions.
Whether stabilizing below 500ppm in the short term will go far enough to avert dangerous climate change is questionable. Some scientists such as James Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, now think that we need to reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations to 350ppm to avoid a dangerous level of warming.
But While Stern acknowledged today that ’it’s quite possible that Hansen’s target is a sensible one for the long term", he is adament that “the first thing is to stop atmospheric concentrations from rising and then to assess the risks. We can’t eliminate the risk [of dangerous climate change], but we can bring down those risks”.
Stern called on world leaders meeting later this week to send out a strong signal on the urgent need to agree a global climate deal in December.
A Blueprint for a Safer Planet (Random House) is out on April 2.
Correction added April 1st: This should refer to 450ppm CO2-equivalent